Not Too Scary

Halloween flicks for kids

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Because I live in a town in which every adult treats Halloween like Christmas, their birthday, and Fourth of July combined—but with 100 percent more costumes—I tend to forget that in most places Oct. 31 is typically a day set aside for children. Probably this oversight would not happen if I had children or regularly interacted with them, but people don’t tend to let me near their offspring, which might have something to do with the fact that I am a monster 365 days a year and not just on Halloween.

This Halloween I am going dressed as someone my mother could be proud of. Except I can’t actually do anything that night because of the pandemic, so this Halloween I guess I’m really dressing as someone going nowhere. Sorry, mom. Maybe next year.

But I digress.

However, in terms of staying close to home, I am in excellent and plentiful company. With Halloween activities severely curtailed by COVID-19 for adults and children alike, costume parties and trick or treating is out, and pumpkin carving and scary movies have never been more in. It goes without saying that kids should not be exposed to the likes of Jason, Freddy, and Michael—unless you want your kids to grow up and become Jason, Freddy, or Michael, that is—but even so Halloween flicks abound for the younger, more impressionable set. Many of them are enjoyable for adults as well, so turn on, tune in and prepare to have your funny bone tickled rather than your heebee jeebies scared out of you.

Hot tip: You’ll probably want to acquire a store of Halloween candy to munch on while watching. I don’t make the rules, I just happen to know what they are.

For me, Tim Burton is the undisputed king of Halloween cinema that is just weird and visually appealing enough for kids—while not being overtly scary—and chock full of entertainment value for parents as well. According to the internet, the best-reviewed family-friendly Halloween movie of all time is The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Burton’s stunning feat of stop-motion animation is indeed a marvelous and original watch, even for a filmmaker who has several marvelous and original movies to his credit. And in Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king who wants to kidnap Santa Claus and take control of Christmas (it makes sense if you watch the movie), he creates a character as richly drawn as any of those in his live-action features. However, that’s far from the only Burton film worth watching during this most creepy time of year. Indeed you could easily put together a film festival composed only of his stop-motion Halloween movies and have plenty to work with. Along with The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton also brought his particular stop-motion sorcery to Corpse Bride and the undersung Frankenweenie. Throw Edward Scissorhands in for good measure. Sure, it’s live action instead of stop-motion, but Johnny Depp’s herky-jerky movements are sort of in keeping with the theme.

If I were to put together my own personal festival of Halloween movies that aren’t the horror flicks I so love, it would also begin with Burton. I have loved Michael Keaton in everything from Mr. Mom to his Oscar-nominated turn in Birdman. I still think he might’ve been the best Batman. However, no movie has harnessed his particular brand of chaotic energy quite like Beetlejuice. As a weird dude in a striped suit from the spirit world, he’s constantly rude, lecherous and totally unhinged for the entirety of the movie’s 92-minute running time. He gets a huge assist from an excellent cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, and Catherine O’Hara. Never has Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” been so well and unforgettably used. Second on my list would likely be Addams Family. I don’t know that the 1991 big-screen adaptation of the television show is considered a “good” movie, per se, but Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia smolder in kind of a squirmy way as the matriarch and patriarch of one of the most famously weird family units ever committed to any screen—but mostly I’m in it for Christina Ricci, a perfectly cast Wednesday Addams.

The final film in my handpicked Halloween fest would be the holiday classic of all classics: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. To be honest, it’s been a number of years since I’ve watched the animated adventures of Charlie, Snoopy, Linus, and their crew of friends and frenemies (I’m looking at you here, Lucy), and the only thing I really remember about it is the music and constantly feeling sorry for Linus, but I’m sure there’s more to it. Technically Great Pumpkin is a TV special not a movie, and as such has limited availability, but much like the great pumpkin itself, you can find it if you believe hard enough and know where to look.

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